Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Food Heresies


Dakki
 Share

Recommended Posts

I don't think I'm the first one to notice that a lot of what passes for conventional wisdom in the foodie world is unadulterated jibba-jabba. I'm not even talking about well-known chestnuts like the one about searing to "seal in the juices," I'm talking about things that seem to be articles of faith to a considerable number of people. I think it is time to have a frank, open, friendly and mature discussion about the stuff we disagree on and allow to go unchallenged for the sake of not going off-topic and/or starting a sh*tstorm.

So, at the risk of being hounded out of eG by a pitchfork-waving mob, I'll go first.

(For the more literal-minded, I'll just state this is intended to be a lighthearted and humorous way of starting a discussion and no disrespect is implied or intended if your views don't precisely match mine, which is quite probably the case).

Modernist cuisine ain't all that. I should qualify that: Research into the science of food, the application of new techniques, tools and ingredients, and the documentation and dissemination thereof is a fantastic thing. Bacon-and-eggs flavored ice cream and spherified everything with a savory foam on top, on the other hand, is merely entertainment for a jaded palate. This "modernist" thing isn't even a new idea, anyway.

"Food miles" is a goofy concept. Sorry, greenies. That 15c bunch of grapes could only have cost 15c worth of fuel to get from the verdant fields of Chile where they were cultivated all the way to your local supermarket, tops. Seriously, if you're that concerned about your carbon footprint, don't have children. Getting fixed is the best thing you could do for the planet.

In a related concept, "Local" doesn't mean "green." Think about it. If you live in the middle of the Mojave desert, growing rice is going to be a hell of a lot more resource-intensive than it is in, say, Thailand. More than enough to offset those pesky food miles, I'd wager.

Pasteurization: A Good Thing. Yes, I am quite aware that most supermarket milk tastes like chalk water, but has it occurred to anyone else that this has more to do with the breed of cows and how they're fed than with pasteurization? Anyway, with all the food safety debate that goes on around here I don't think I should have to point out that ensuring the stuff you pour on your local, organic muesli every morning isn't actively trying to kill you is actually pretty nice.

"Artificial" doesn't mean "bad." I know that consuming a tiny bit of petroleum derivate along with all those natural, healthy starches and sugars in a Hostess Ding-Dong makes a lot of people feel like they're chugging down a tubful of toxic waste, but there is no rational reason to fear FDA-approved additives. If you're concerned about your health, get a checkup on a regular basis. Putting down the Sun Chips and getting some exercise couldn't hurt, either.

On a trip, that chain restaurant you turn your nose up at home might be your best bet. I've eaten a lot of unpalatable meals on the road, and while it may be possible to discover the perfect rhubarb pie in that roadside diner, that has never actually happened to me. Hit the chains. At least the food is predictable.

I don't believe in Italian grandmothers. Oh, I believe they exist, or else there's a lot of unaccountable Italian grandchildren in the world. I just don't believe they're all such great cooks. Rose-tinted glasses and love for Nonna have made a lot of "spruced-up" Prego the final word in pasta sauce, I suspect.

If your four-year-old turns up her nose at canned peas and demands organic smoothies, you aren't raising the world's greatest gourmand. The term is "picky eater" and that's an entirely different beast.

There is entirely too much testosterone flying around in the knife threads. Probably not a heretical statement but I needed to put that out there.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You have some points, but... it's easy for this to slide rapidly to the other end of the spectrum, into inverted snobbery; it's something I see a lot, and defending myself against that is as much of a bore as pointing out that my drinking instant coffee when I'm too lazy to fire up the Silvia does not make me one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. A sense of humour tends to be hard to hold onto, for some reason (part of it – and please understand I'm not suggesting you're doing this – has to do with the fact that that a popular, sleazy strategy is for someone to insult someone else, then accuse them of lacking a sense of humour).

. . . .

Modernist cuisine ain't all that. I should qualify that: Research into the science of food, the application of new techniques, tools and ingredients, and the documentation and dissemination thereof is a fantastic thing. Bacon-and-eggs flavored ice cream and spherified everything with a savory foam on top, on the other hand, is merely entertainment for a jaded palate. This "modernist" thing isn't even a new idea, anyway.

I haven't got the equipment for a lot of modernist cuisine (haven't got the books, either), but I do browse the related forums, and honestly, they seem pretty level-headed to me. Who doesn't like experimenting with science in the kitchen?

"Food miles" is a goofy concept. Sorry, greenies. That 15c bunch of grapes could only have cost 15c worth of fuel to get from the verdant fields of Chile where they were cultivated all the way to your local supermarket, tops. Seriously, if you're that concerned about your carbon footprint, don't have children. Getting fixed is the best thing you could do for the planet.

Taken to an extreme, any concept is goofy; getting produce that is easily grown locally from nearby is a good idea for reasons that go beyond the distance travelled: I like like having an idea of who's grown my food, and under what circumstances.

In a related concept, "Local" doesn't mean "green." Think about it. If you live in the middle of the Mojave desert, growing rice is going to be a hell of a lot more resource-intensive than it is in, say, Thailand. More than enough to offset those pesky food miles, I'd wager.

This is self-evident (essentially, what I said previously, regarding the problem with taking things to extremes).

Pasteurization: A Good Thing. Yes, I am quite aware that most supermarket milk tastes like chalk water, but has it occurred to anyone else that this has more to do with the breed of cows and how they're fed than with pasteurization? Anyway, with all the food safety debate that goes on around here I don't think I should have to point out that ensuring the stuff you pour on your local, organic muesli every morning isn't actively trying to kill you is actually pretty nice.

When it comes to combating disease, I'm right with you. On the other hand, if a small producer is willing to commit to keeping a really, really clean herd, and have the veterinary supervision to ensure this, I'm also behind being able to get my hands on raw milk. I don't love dairy, and see no point in humans drinking the milk of a large grazing animal (don't get me started with the calcium argument, unless you've thoroughly read and can cite at least three recent academic articles published in reputable journals, discussing osteoporosis/rickets and milk consumption in the Western world), but have to admit that there is a distinct difference between the pasteurized and the unpasteurized product.

"Artificial" doesn't mean "bad." I know that consuming a tiny bit of petroleum derivate along with all those natural, healthy starches and sugars in a Hostess Ding-Dong makes a lot of people feel like they're chugging down a tubful of toxic waste, but there is no rational reason to fear FDA-approved additives. If you're concerned about your health, get a checkup on a regular basis. Putting down the Sun Chips and getting some exercise couldn't hurt, either.

FDA-approved doesn't mean a hell of a lot, since the FDA has made plenty of nightmarishly stupid calls. On the other hand, no, there isn't anything horribly wrong with a bit of artificial this and that, although the creeping advance of dubious synthetics where I don't expect them is kind of getting my goat.

. . . .

There is entirely too much testosterone flying around in the knife threads. Probably not a heretical statement but I needed to put that out there.

Might could be... not one of the threads I turn to often, since it isn't I'm not very knife focused, but if I was, and the tone struck me as unduly macho, I'd just give it a miss.

While I don't think it's a heretical view, I do think that the surprise/entertainment aspects of food have become a bit overemphasized in some places. I love a beautiful presentation, but honestly, my life is pretty interesting, so if the food is simply well made, I'm happy with that, and I'm actually fine with my main of beef not being artistically presented in the form of an orchid.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am on board with most of those statements with caveats on two.

In regards to pasteurization , at least in Canada , there is no choice. There are dairies, in other parts of the world, that are able to do unpasteurized but safe dairy products. Regulations and enforment(paid for by the industry producing the product) can be put in effect to make it as safe as possible. Couple this with a customer base willing to assume whatever risk and cost there is, and I am against laws that take that choice away.

I also have to take exception to any remarks about my Nonna. ;)

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Speaking of grandmothers, here's a couple of phrases I've been toying with: "Hunger is the best spice. Good companionship the best flavoring." Grandmas of all kind have a tendency to make the best flavorings.

Certainly, any group will have people who are better or worse at doing something. However, there is the aphorism "Practice makes perfect." Thos. Keller said something similar. He said it takes doing something 5000 times to get it right. Up until recently, the only people in the family who had done something that many times were probably grannies.

My MIL was really a very indifferent cook. My wife tells me that she made very good fried chicken and BBQ ribs, probably learned from a maid. I never had them, but there was thing she made, oven crisped potatoes, that were always excellent. I put up with the Miracle Whip on the salads just to get to the potatoes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with pretty much everything above esp the pasteurization issue. All of the big advances in medicine...the ones that prevent large scale disease and death...have been in the public health realm. Sewage treatment, malarial swamp draining and vaccination are the big ones; but not far behind is pasteurization of milk.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Blinded ABX is the minimum necessary standard for making statements on taste. an ABX test involves testing 2 of substance A and 1 of substance B and seeing if you can spot the odd one out, blinded means you don't know ahead of time which is which. *All* that this tests is whether 2 things are even distinguishably different which should represent the minimum threshold to even have a conversation on taste and yet I've seen this test fail so many times.

People's palates are shockingly worse that they think they are and we rely on psychological cues most of the time as a heuristic for taste. You can claim all you want that the organic peach has a richer, fuller flavor or that it's worth the money to pay for super premium eggs because you can taste the grassy notes or that the super premium vodka makes a smoother cocktail, I'm not going to believe you unless you can meet the minimum threshold of passing an blinded ABX test.

They're quick and easy to do and it's been amazing, over the years how often I see people fail "trivial" tests. No vodka drinker with a brand allegiance has ever been able to tell their brand from stoli and half of them can't even tell it from the cheapest well vodka, 3 reasonably well educated wine drinkers couldn't correctly tell 3 red wines of different varietals apart, I've never met anyone who could tell premium eggs (and neither can food scientists) and, in a bacon tasting of 15 people, there was a well defined negative correlation between price and quality.

After seeing these results first hand, I'm immensely skeptical about any supposed claim of food superiority unless I do my own ABX tests.

If you know what you're doing, 80% of supermarket goods are as good or better than from the fancy gourmet store. People love to malign supermarket produce as being cardboard and supermarket meat as being from industrial, factory farmed murder machines. But the truth is, I've found a lot of supermarket stuff to be consistently good and some of it to be amazing. A well run supermarket has far more turnover than the fancy grocery store and produce quality is so variable in the first place that frequently, there's always, an amazing batch of something will arrive at the supermarket. Some of the best peaches I've ever had were for a glorious 2 week run at one of my local supermarket and I was a glutton for them while they were there.

Due diligence is nice in theory but never practiced in reality. One of the arguments from locavores is that "I could go to the farm and see the animals myself" and I call bullshit. Hire a graphic designer to slap some artisinal logos on stuff and have a suitably grizzled man selling it at the farmers market and you could hide the most egregious animal abuse and poor handling procedures under the local sticker. Even if someone were to visit the farm, their lack of knowledge would cause them to miss most of the egregious violations and focus on surface aesthetic concerns.

I don't give a flying fig about animal cruelty. No farmers are actively sadistic and, often, the interests of the animal and the farmer are aligned. Most actual, documented instances of egregious animal abuse are a result of incompetence and result in worse food that you shouldn't buy, even if you only care about cost & taste.

Even in the cases where animal cruelty is an engineered part of the industrial farming process, it's not like an animal living it's "natural" life is a walk in the park either and at least animals bred for food don't have to worry about starvation, injury, predation, weather, parasites and cancer. Given the backdrop of the immense amount of natural suffering the world's animals go through, I'm pretty OK ethically with my decision to eat meat and I don't feel the need to assuage any guilt by buying "humanely raised".

Most concerns about toxins in food are overblown. Everything from rBGH to BPA to Aspartame to pesticide residue, most of it is a massively overblown concern. Yes, a small minority of these might be legitimate worries but far more of them are hyperbolic fear mongering.

Sometimes unpronounceable chemicals are added to make a food cheaper or last longer but sometimes they're added to just plain make food better. The heuristic of finding the food with the smallest number of ingredients sounds good in theory but sometimes, you genuinely want the wonders of modern food chemistry, which leads me to...

Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver and Mark Bittman have no idea what the hell they're talking about and have no interest in learning which is a shame because they are all enormous forces of good in the food world but their interest in remaining deliberately ignorant in order to champion their cause is damaging.

Anyone who talks incessantly about knives without ever talking about sharpening doesn't know what the hell they're talking about. Given that a good knife only ever retains it's factory edge for 1% of it's lifespan, your choice of sharpening solution is 100 times more important than your choice of knife. But because it's not the sexy part of knife buying, only the people who actually *use* their knives care deeply about sharpening.

Modernist Cuisine is one of the biggest revolutions in food since the invention of the modern oven and historically, we're going to look at it as a sharp discontinuity in the evolution of food history.

Edited by Shalmanese (log)

PS: I am a guy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Artificial sweeteners are bad for you Well, no. They've been tested out the wazoo and are safe as far as anyone can tell. Saccharine in particular has been around longer than most of us and is safe. Sugar, on the other hand, rots teeth, makes you fat, and brings out diabetes in the susceptible.

It is easy for somebody with an agenda and an internet connection to make assertions about the FDA and their ability to determine safety, but if you look at the record, the FDA does pretty darn well at what they decide to address. If anything they are over-cautious...which is usually not a bad thing.

If you want to FDA-bash a valid target would be all the stuff that they decline to address; like the safety of "nutritional supplements" and food safety. But even then your beef is really with congress who gives FDA their mandate and has exempted botanicals from scrutiny unless they make a drug-like claim.

Edited by gfweb (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What I'm loving about this thread is the way it really brings out the inverted snobbery, self-righteous justifications of indifference, truly entertaining lack of historical perspective, and complete failure to cite credible sources, generously dusted with an unwitting credulousness.

My heretical statement: I'm a bit tired of every conceivable venue offering a tasting menu, since frankly, most places don't do anything that original or effective with it, certainly not enough to justify the prices they usually see fit to ask. In the hands of a few, it impresses; when everybody does it, it just makes the whole concept look silly (N.B. my subjective opinion, it should go without saying).

Grandmas of all kind have a tendency to make the best flavorings.

would that be ground grandmother, freeze dried grandmother, or made into stock? :wink:

Oh, sustainably, locally-sourced grandmother, it goes without saying: you know, toenail and miscellaneous hair trimmings, ground fine, and sold at only three exclusive venues, globally (one is in Greenland; the other two are actually shifting locations, and can only be located via encrypted Tweets).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What I'm loving about this thread is the way it really brings out the inverted snobbery, self-righteous justifications of indifference, truly entertaining lack of historical perspective, and complete failure to cite credible sources, generously dusted with an unwitting credulousness.

Is this an example of inverted inverted snobbery? :laugh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What I'm loving about this thread is the way it really brings out the inverted snobbery, self-righteous justifications of indifference, truly entertaining lack of historical perspective, and complete failure to cite credible sources, generously dusted with an unwitting credulousness.

Is this an example of inverted inverted snobbery? :laugh:

Nope. Just straight-up snobbery, at worst :raz:

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fun thread. My contribution:

You don't need a show kitchen to be a good cook.. I'm always amazed at how many people fit into and how much good food comes out of tiny restaurant kitchens. I've never understood the desire to own an enormous home with a cavernous kitchen. I'm much happier in a more intimate space.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Artificial sweeteners are bad for you Well, no. They've been tested out the wazoo and are safe as far as anyone can tell. Saccharine in particular has been around longer than most of us and is safe. Sugar, on the other hand, rots teeth, makes you fat, and brings out diabetes in the susceptible.

It is easy for somebody with an agenda and an internet connection to make assertions about the FDA and their ability to determine safety, but if you look at the record, the FDA does pretty darn well at what they decide to address. If anything they are over-cautious...which is usually not a bad thing.

If you want to FDA-bash a valid target would be all the stuff that they decline to address; like the safety of "nutritional supplements" and food safety. But even then your beef is really with congress who gives FDA their mandate and has exempted botanicals from scrutiny unless they make a drug-like claim.

To get an idea of just how ridiculous the FDA can be, consider what happened with sodium cyclamate: (Wiki quote)

On October 18, 1969, the Food and Drug Administration banned its sale in the United States with citation of the Delaney Amendment after reports that large quantities of cyclamates could cause liver damage, bladder cancer, birth mutations and defects, reduce testosterone or shrivel the testes. In the same month, cyclamate was approved for use in the United Kingdom and is still used in low-calorie drinks; it is still available without restriction in the UK and Europe. As cyclamate is stable in heat, it was and is marketed as suitable for use in cooking and baking. Commercially, it is available as Sucaryl™. [

The "studies" have since been proved to be spurious in that the amount fed to the lab rats was far in excess of what a human would consume over a much longer period.

and:

Abbott Laboratories claimed that its own studies were unable to reproduce the 1969 study's results, and, in 1973, Abbott petitioned the FDA to lift the ban on cyclamate. This petition was eventually denied in 1980 by FDA Commissioner Jere Goyan. Abbott Labs, together with the Calorie Control Council (a political lobby representing the diet foods industry), filed a second petition in 1982. Although the FDA has stated that a review of all available evidence does not implicate cyclamate as a carcinogen in mice or rats, cyclamate remains banned from food products in the United States. The petition is now held in abeyance, though not actively considered.[4] It is unclear whether this is at the request of Abbott Labs or because the petition is considered to be insufficient by the FDA.
Cyclamate is approved as a sweetener in over 55 countries,[5] though it is banned in the United States. [6]

At the time this was happening, it really annoyed me. The stuff was not altered by heat, so could be safely used in cooking, and it tasted good and had none of the side effects of the later (and still) approved aspartame (causes cardiac arrhythmia in me).

The fact that it is much cheaper than the artificial sweeteners produced by other companies made me wonder if there was some serious industrial espionage going on and supporting the so-called studies that killed this product in the U.S.

Note that the FDA has turned a blind eye to many, much more harmful substances, in the years since this action.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Modernist Cuisine looks like cooking for guys who aren't into other fiddly pastimes, like racing muscle cars or motorcycles. It's needlessly tedious, requires scads of dedicated equipment, is prone to failure, and need endless tweaking. Perfect for the guy in the kitchen: provided he has his own kitchen since the rest of us want to eat before 72 hours have elapsed.

/traditionalist snob

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not again it (M.C.), but I find it funny that if we make fake cherries at home with gelling goop and enzymes, its "cool", but if you buy them made by a large factory, its 'gross'.

S.V. has both potential to be a bigger timesaver than the crockpot or TV dinner, and the biggest source of home food-poisoning. Wheeee!

(and I think that reasonably priced little sidekick circulator is going to bring sv into more homes).

Again, its bad to buy food partially cooked by the mfg and frozen for your convenience in reheating, but its good to sv a bunch of stuff and freeze it for your later convenience.

In general, I like the idea of understanding the chemistry and physics of cooking, the ability to fine tune a result by fine-tuning temperature, etc.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not again it (M.C.), but I find it funny that if we make fake cherries at home with gelling goop and enzymes, its "cool", but if you buy them made by a large factory, its 'gross'.

The difference I see is that if I'm making fake cherries, I can start with top-quality real cherries. With industrially produced fake cherries, the quality of the cherries themselves may be questionable. In other words, it's not the magic white powders that make the fake cherries "gross"; it's the quality of the natural ingredients.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not again it (M.C.), but I find it funny that if we make fake cherries at home with gelling goop and enzymes, its "cool", but if you buy them made by a large factory, its 'gross'.

The difference I see is that if I'm making fake cherries, I can start with top-quality real cherries. With industrially produced fake cherries, the quality of the cherries themselves may be questionable. In other words, it's not the magic white powders that make the fake cherries "gross"; it's the quality of the natural ingredients.

I come from the land of fake cherries - Oregon produces industrial tank loads of them. The quality of the cherries used is very high in order to produce a blemish free product. What they do with the fruit is another thing. Bleaching the color out of them until they are whiter than white, treatment to give them texture, coloring and flavoring is added.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

IMO techniques, MC or more standard,should be used as best serves the dish, not the dish used to showcase fancy technique. As far as the MC aspect goes, I get the whole " We have a new toy , lets use it for everything vibe." Once you get past that though, there has to be thought put into the context in which it is used. If is is truely doing something for the dish, worth the effort , great. I firmly beleive that overly complicating something , whether it be using way to many ingredients, or using a technique just because you can, just ends up detracting from the quality of the end product.

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Blinded ABX is the minimum necessary standard for making statements on taste. an ABX test involves testing 2 of substance A and 1 of substance B and seeing if you can spot the odd one out, blinded means you don't know ahead of time which is which. *All* that this tests is whether 2 things are even distinguishably different which should represent the minimum threshold to even have a conversation on taste and yet I've seen this test fail so many times.

People's palates are shockingly worse that they think they are and we rely on psychological cues most of the time as a heuristic for taste. You can claim all you want that the organic peach has a richer, fuller flavor or that it's worth the money to pay for super premium eggs because you can taste the grassy notes or that the super premium vodka makes a smoother cocktail, I'm not going to believe you unless you can meet the minimum threshold of passing an blinded ABX test.

They're quick and easy to do and it's been amazing, over the years how often I see people fail "trivial" tests. No vodka drinker with a brand allegiance has ever been able to tell their brand from stoli and half of them can't even tell it from the cheapest well vodka, 3 reasonably well educated wine drinkers couldn't correctly tell 3 red wines of different varietals apart, I've never met anyone who could tell premium eggs (and neither can food scientists) and, in a bacon tasting of 15 people, there was a well defined negative correlation between price and quality.

After seeing these results first hand, I'm immensely skeptical about any supposed claim of food superiority unless I do my own ABX tests.

Interesting. Part of your argument here seems to equate with Nathan Mhyrvold's assertion in Modernist Cuisine that it is impossible for anyone to tell where a wine comes from by taste alone (I'm paraphrasing but this was the thrust of his assertions). There are several hundred people in the world who have done the Master's of Wine qualification who have performed this task successfully in a standardised fashion in blind tastings. One would think that many more who have not chosen this path would be able to do so. The difference is skill development and expertise. Maybe it's me but I shudder every time I see the phrase "reasonably well educated" before someone saying that this is proof that something doesn't work. Even more so when I see someone say that they need to see results first hand before they will believe them. Just because you or your friends cannot perceive differences doesn't mean that others can't.

In another thread, I had someone swearing on their expertise and faith that jaccarding a piece of steak makes no difference to liquid retention. I experimented and showed it did, to a marked extent. You can probably deduce from this that I agree on testing things. However, I would suggest further that subjects are carefully chosen before making sweeping assertions one way or the other.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are several hundred people in the world who have done the Master's of Wine qualification who have performed this task successfully in a standardised fashion in blind tastings. One would think that many more who have not chosen this path would be able to do so. The difference is skill development and expertise.

Passing the Masters of Wine practical (three 12-wine blind tastings in which papers are written assessing the wines for variety, origin, winemaking, quality and style) doesn't necessarily mean that these people could accurately distinguish red wine varietals in a triangle or ABX test at a rate significantly above chance. In fact, the MoW practical doesn't in any way seem to assess for this skill. Regardless of whether they can or not, the fact that a minuscule percentage of the population can distinguish certain differences doesn't make those differences relevant in the real world when Joe Schmo is claiming that X is clearly superior to Y. And that's the point being made here by Shalmanese. In the vast majority of instances, when Joe Schmo is claiming that X is clearly superior to Y, the reality is that he can't accurately distinguish between X and Y in a properly controlled test.

Maybe it's me but I shudder every time I see the phrase "reasonably well educated" before someone saying that this is proof that something doesn't work. Even more so when I see someone say that they need to see results first hand before they will believe them. Just because you or your friends cannot perceive differences doesn't mean that others can't.

One of the issues, of course, is that even reasonably well educated and smart people can fail at this sort of thing. In fact, reasonably well educated and smart people with some level of expertise may be even more prone to making certain mistakes because they assume they're smart enough and experienced enough to "think around" the usual confounding factors and don't need to bother with a properly conceived, controlled and blinded test. Do a search back through the archives for the thread on the "wine clip" (a magnetic clip that goes around the neck of a wine bottle and purportedly improves the wine poured out of a "clipped bottle" by magnetism) and you will find some extremely smart, well educated and experienced people "testing" the wine clip and finding an unambiguous positive result.

--

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are several hundred people in the world who have done the Master's of Wine qualification who have performed this task successfully in a standardised fashion in blind tastings. One would think that many more who have not chosen this path would be able to do so. The difference is skill development and expertise.

Passing the Masters of Wine practical (three 12-wine blind tastings in which papers are written assessing the wines for variety, origin, winemaking, quality and style) doesn't necessarily mean that these people could accurately distinguish red wine varietals in a triangle or ABX test at a rate significantly above chance. In fact, the MoW practical doesn't in any way seem to assess for this skill. Regardless of whether they can or not, the fact that a minuscule percentage of the population can distinguish certain differences doesn't make those differences relevant in the real world when Joe Schmo is claiming that X is clearly superior to Y. And that's the point being made here by Shalmanese. In the vast majority of instances, when Joe Schmo is claiming that X is clearly superior to Y, the reality is that he can't accurately distinguish between X and Y in a properly controlled test.

Maybe it's me but I shudder every time I see the phrase "reasonably well educated" before someone saying that this is proof that something doesn't work. Even more so when I see someone say that they need to see results first hand before they will believe them. Just because you or your friends cannot perceive differences doesn't mean that others can't.

One of the issues, of course, is that even reasonably well educated and smart people can fail at this sort of thing. In fact, reasonably well educated and smart people with some level of expertise may be even more prone to making certain mistakes because they assume they're smart enough and experienced enough to "think around" the usual confounding factors and don't need to bother with a properly conceived, controlled and blinded test. Do a search back through the archives for the thread on the "wine clip" (a magnetic clip that goes around the neck of a wine bottle and purportedly improves the wine poured out of a "clipped bottle" by magnetism) and you will find some extremely smart, well educated and experienced people "testing" the wine clip and finding an unambiguous positive result.

There is a lot of ridiculousness in the wine world. Faddish trends are often the name of the game for the vast majority of professionals and drinkers. The value of a wine in dollars is determined by the winemaker: it's not at all intrinsic to the wine and it is really just a guess on how much they can get from the combination of marketing, press, and how the wine itself comes off. A wine is often only as good as it seems to be, not typically how good it is.

I'm sure you've experienced the same exact wine tasting very different in different circumstances. I have and I've made what I regard as bad buying decisions (not a bottle for me, but for a wine shop and by the case). It is too easy to make mistakes unless you remain very focused, especially after tasting 30 or so wines. I start to get some serious palate fatigue and have to focus even more.

That said, when you talk about controlled blind tests, what variables would you exclude? There is more to wine than taste: there's aroma, color, and texture. On a bad day, you could give me two wines and I'd have trouble distinguishing their characteristics accurately. On a good day, I could do it decently well. But this is the thing: tasting for varietals is meaningless. I don't think people could do it very accurately, as you say, and even if they could it doesn't matter because varietals don't tell you everything about a wine. In fact, they tell you very little and are not the best heuristic to use when looking at a wine: you've got to include many many variables if you want to speak accurately about a wine.

Perhaps my palate just isn't disciplined enough (I'm very far from a master taster), but I really have my doubts when I hear yet another report that wine tasting is worthless because two buck chuck won another contest or wine tasters can't tell the difference between red and white when blinded. Here's the heresy that I think is BS: I can taste cheap wine a mile away, even on a really bad day. You could probably fool me by giving me a heavy bodied white wine colored red, or a light bodied highly acidic red tasted blindfolded. But so what? I don't think that proves much because you're essentially rigging the game.

There is so much going on with wine, that you'd have to think very carefully what to control for. Books like Francois Chartier's Taste Buds and Molecules will hopefully keep us looking in the right direction.

nunc est bibendum...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...